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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Nutrient balancing or spring flush - What determines spruce bark stripping level by red deer?

Widen, Anna; Jarnemo, Anders; Mansson, Johan; Lilja, Johan; Morel, Julien; Felton, Annika M.


The distribution and population density of red deer (Cervus elaphus) are increasing in several regions of Europe. The deer may cause severe damage in commercial forestry and agriculture. Bark stripping is the main problem in forests, especially on Norway spruce (Picea abies), and is thought to mostly occur during winter when other forage is scarce. It has been suggested that an imbalance in the nutrient intake, and especially a diet including high amounts of easily-digestible macronutrients, such as agricultural crops, can lead to an increased urge to consume bark. Feeding on brassicas, for example rapeseed (Brassica napus) might have this effect. The aim with this study was to investigate the relationship between intake of rapeseed and bark stripping on Norway spruce by red deer during early spring. We did this by a controlled feeding experiment with four groups of captive red deer in southern Sweden. All groups were given spruce logs every week, while only two groups had access to freshly harvested rapeseed plants. In addition, influence of air temperature and forage nutritional composition was taken into account. Our results show that red deer bark stripping can be considerable not only during winter but also during spring green-up. We found no significant influence of rapeseed on bark stripping performed by the deer. However, at a threshold temperature, deer suddenly started to ingest large amounts of bark biomass, coinciding with a significant change in the bark's concentration of starch. We suggest that the lack of effect of rapeseed feeding can partly be explained by overshadowing effects caused by such seasonal changes of bark character-istics, and partly by the fact that the rapeseed plants in our study contained lower than expected concentrations of easily-digestible macronutrients (apart from protein). We conclude that the risk of damage on spruce can be especially high during certain periods, something that is important to consider when mitigating bark stripping. However, several interactive effects are involved and must be considered in order to more efficiently mitigate damage.


Bark stripping; Forest damage; Oil seed rape; Deer management; Ungulates

Published in

Forest Ecology and Management
2022, Volume: 520, article number: 120414
Publisher: ELSEVIER

      SLU Authors

        • Morel, Julien

          • Department of Agricultural Research for Northern Sweden, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

        Associated SLU-program

        SLU Forest Damage Center

        UKÄ Subject classification

        Forensic Science

        Publication identifier


        Permanent link to this page (URI)